Race for Gold: The Greenstone and Eastern Hohonu Water Race
Episode 1. Full Length.
Listen online: https://youtu.be/trFAMZ9-frs
While water is famously plentiful on New Zealand’s West Coast. Early gold miners often found it to be in the wrong places for their needs. “Looking rather dull for want of water” was an often used lament of the times. Race for Gold looks at some of the significant projects undertaken to convey water from point A to point of need.
The Duke of Edinburgh Terrace, around 6 kilometres due east of Kumara in the Greenstone Valley had originally been tunnelled for mining returns. Heading into the 1870’s it was a place in great need of a larger and more consistent water supply to get 19th century gold production really going.
Within days of a motion being passed by local groovers and shakers of the time. The acquisition of a government surveyor was greenlit and one William Crayton Fortescue Armstrong put out a notice for tender on January 22nd 1869 requesting the survey of a water race in the Greenstone District. By just January 31st a surveyor was confirmed and had already begun laying out the line for this water race project. The goal being to source water from the Big Hohonu River, bring it to the Duke of Edinburgh Terrace and then possibly convey it all the way down to the Teremakau River. This would require a water race that ran around 6 miles to the terrace and if it continued down the valley would form a length some 15 miles in total. Bringing the benefits of an estimated 32 sluice heads of water to the Duke miners.
In the meantime, lack of water remained a constant issue at the Duke of Edinburgh. Pay dirt was piling up in wait of the water required for washing. One correspondent reported that the miners were “Not cleaning enough to make a difference with the gold escort”. Referring to the gold buyers of the era and their accompanying armed guards, not walking away with much mineral to show for their visits. Gold cradles were being employed to atleast clear some of the paydirt. As, while not the most efficient or speedy method of the times, cradles, also known as rockers, only required a minimal amount of water use.
By March, the Eastern Hohonu Water Race Company has formed. Armstrong and Party are well underway with their project but it is still some 6 months distant from being finished. An estimated 50,000 feet of fluming are rumoured to be required for the task. This doesn’t worry the old timers, as on April 26th the Tender for work opened and by May, all sections of the build had been let to contractors. A store is setup to service the contractors and many establish worker’s camps for the task at hand.
During this time, there must have been a little bit of rain about. A temporary availability of extra water helps get the Duke of Edinburgh miners moving moderately ahead. This leads to nuggets up to 4oz being found on the site. Two landslides also came down and cause a slight bit of inconvenience. The productivity doesn’t last too long as by the end of May around 200 people have left the terrace area. As the months progress the population continues to dwindle almost to the point of appearing deserted.
Considering the impenetrable landscape, untampered terrain and the 19th century tools at hand, progress is relatively rapid. It takes until mid-August for the water race to make an appearance near the Duke. Putting it within cooee, however the completion is still 3 weeks away.
Early September therefore is cause for celebration. All employed on the project are paid out at their contracts completion. Unfortunately, despite stringent following of the survey and engineering plans, there is a fault. One section of the race collapses as a result. As the project manager Mr Armstrong is given somewhat of a reprieve on this matter due to the way he diligently pursued and supported the construction. Aspects of the failed 2 chains length of race are soon amended. The following week, Armstrong is declared bankrupt and his estate is opened up for creditors to pick over.
Conveniently, The Greenstone and Eastern Hohonu Water Race and Gold Mining Company has acquired a massive 10 acres of prime land at the Duke of Edinburgh Terrace. This eventually allows for the employment of around 60 men alone. The designated Site Manager is none other than Mr. W.C.F. Armstrong. Despite suggestions that he would make more money subletting the company claim to smaller operators and charging them for water rights, he gets to work in honest. Arranging to bring a side flume in from the main water race to where they need it on the terrace.
The place springs back into life as other claims along the terrace begin paying for water rights access at a rate of 2 pound per week for a head of water, considered a temporary “prospecting price” to encourage other miners to the area. Hydraulic Mining can now get thoroughly underway, Although there turns out to be a few sticking points. Due to the huge volumes of water that Armstrong’s company requires and the water supply not physically being able to meet everyone’s demand. The race is apparently only carrying 25 head of water, over 20% less than originally intended. That supply can diminish right down further to just 11 head of water during dry spells.
Problems are already reaching a tipping point in 1870. For starters, plaintiffs take the company to Warden’s Court for flooding out or damaging their claims with run off. Then the company put the price of water up to 3 pound 10 shilling per Government head per day of 8 hours. Now, many of the miners weren’t as concerned by this cost, as they were more concerned about paying a high fee for such an inconsistent water flow.
Eastern Hohonu company operations take a hiatus for a few weeks in May to allow the other claims access to enough volume of water. This move sees around 50 of the company employees put out of work. In August the company took attacking action and let out for tender the construction of an extra branch water race and a new reservoir dam to help store up additional water supplies during the nights. At this stage, miners were somewhat unwilling to work at night considering the steep faces and precipitous boulders hanging tentatively above them. Following an extension on the tender period the project is finally taken up.
Within two months a race is completed but the contractor tasked with the dam construction walks off the job halfway through. The Greenstone and Eastern Hohonu Water Race and Gold Mining Company take over finishing the task for themselves. Putting out a call for “pick and shovel men” right before the end of the year.
Claim work stops again for 2 weeks during January 1871 to allow the Eastern Hohonu Company opportunity for further widening of races and raising their flumes higher up the terrace. A man is killed by a crushing blow to the head when putting in framework for dam floodgates. While erecting the frame, a loss of footing by other workers causes part of the structure to come loose and kill the fellow all but instantly. This death is ruled as accidental after an inquest.
Duke of Edinburgh Terrace miners do eventually walk off the job due to further water supply issues. This time in regards to the amount of water supplied, access hours to the water and the exceptionally high price too. Plus the fact that Mr. Armstong has gone around nailing battens across the miners boxes to prevent their water flowing until outstanding accounts with the miners are settled. A meeting is held to quell their concerns. Mr William Evans, the companies’ legal manager, agrees to have Armstrong remove the battens so that work can proceed and also to bring surveyors up to the Duke of Edinburgh in order to measure the water volumes and ensure the miners are getting their penny’s worth. This doesn’t exactly come to fruition as planned.
Two surveyors, one appointed by the miners and one by the Eastern Hohonu Company, do soon arrive tasked with the job. They stand upon a length of branch fluming to take their water measurements, only to “come down quicker than the otherwise intended” falling some 25 feet when the flume collapsed under their additional weight. The gentlemen were left with sore ribs and backs but survived. Needless to say, no more measurements were taken for the time being. A number of claims go through the court in order to also settle the monetary differences between the miners and the company.
You may be surprised to learn that in this same year the water race fluming also caught fire during a long dry spell. Sections were hurriedly cut down and gradually got replaced over the following weeks. Such occurrences weren’t completely uncommon in the rainless periods of the Coast. Small bushfires being of a notable concern.
Terrace ground was noted to be hydrauliced on such an extensive scale “As not to be exceeded in any other district of New Zealand.” Gradually the ground was being worked out of productivity. To give an indication of how much land was modified. The original Greenstone Township was estimated to sit around 100 to 150 yards from the base of Duke terrace before sluicing operations started. Within 4 years the mine tailings were literally lapping at the town with some miners paying compensation in regards to rock damage to buildings. Thoughts at one stage were put forward to move the entire Greenstone township causing division amongst the supporters and non-supporters. After a huge flood wiping out a large number of buildings, this endeavour eventually came to be. Pounamu township was surveyed and the town shifting across the river.
By 1874 the incline of the resculpted terrace was no longer steep enough to allow larger rocks to pass right on through sluice boxes. This in turn led to much slower work, as men must take time to clear extra stuck boulders by hand. The ground is barely paying its way, so the price of water access is lowered for all. Despite this, a tender for another branch race some 2 miles in length is put on the table. Not long later, in March, the company surrender their 10-acre claim lease while also continuing mining operations on other ground with a completely new methodology.
During all of the previous work, ground sluicing and leaky canvas hoses are the go-to options for washing away hillsides. Not the most efficient means. By 74, reports have filtered back to the Coast in regards to the use of iron piping and high pressure Californian style water nozzles that are being utilised in the Americas. Armstrong is advised on this and helps purchase what may possibly be one of the first proper sluice nozzles in New Zealand, for the purpose of work, plus trial and showcase to other mining operators. By 1874’s penultimate month, the new technology arrives in New Zealand and a tender goes out for the conveyancing of a hydraulic nozzle and iron piping from Hokitika to the Duke of Edinburgh Terrace. It is said that the destructive operation of this unit is quite an incredible thing to lay eyes upon.
Things on the Terrace must have been more seriously slowing down just two years later. Be that due to the imminent Kumara Gold Rush or just general exhausted ground. An application for tenders goes out early in the year. This time for the purchase all of the companies claim, plant and most importantly lease, for two to three years, of the water race rights. This tender may have fallen over. For a year after, Armstrong is still pursuing the Duke but most mining endeavours have crawled to a stop.
Not long later Kumara is becoming the new throng of gold activity. Come April the Kumara Goldfield literally springs into life. The new position of Manager at the Okuku Water Race has Armstrong’s name all over it. And with that position added to the C.V. a new set of undertakings and headaches begin for him during New Zealand’s last great gold rush!
As for the Duke of Edinburgh Terrace. It does continue life in various manners and the Eastern Hohonu Company remain there for some time. To the point that in 1885 they’re considered one of “the most unprofitable mining companies on the coast”. Another team are eventually granted rights to run the water race from Big Hohonu to the Duke and the search for productive gold by miners of the 19th century continues on. Water helping them, all along the way.